Geology major Christopher Eddy ’17 was one of 38 Norwich University undergraduates awarded Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
This summer rising junior Christopher Eddy (pictured center) spent 10 weeks in the field and lab investigating the boundary between two ancient mountain building events in central Vermont.
Known as the Richardson Memorial Contact, the region separates the 480 million-year-old Taconic mountain building event, or formation, from the younger 320-million-old to 330 million-year-old Acadian mountain building event.
Geologists have puzzled over this complex boundary for nearly a century, trying to understand its geologic backstory.
Seeking to add more data to the science debate, Eddy and his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Geology G. Christopher Koteas, performed detailed geologic mapping and lab-based microstructural studies of rocks along the boundary structure.
“My research project really stemmed from an urge to do science and really dive into the field,” Eddy says.
He applied to the NU Undergraduate Research Program to become a Summer Research Fellow. Administered by the Office of Academic Research, the program awarded 38 Norwich undergraduates stipends up to $4,000 to cover six- and ten-week research projects across the arts, sciences and professional fields this year.
Fellows are paired with faculty advisors and meet regularly over the course of the summer with fellow student researchers to share findings and the highs and lows of their research experience.
The program is entirely funded by university endowments from alumni dedicated to supporting academic student investigation.
Over the summer, Eddy and Koteas visited 86 field sites along transects of the boundary in central Vermont to gather map data and field samples. Rock samples in hand, they returned to the lab to analyze and interpret their data.
“Geology is pretty great in that everything that happens on a grand scale also happens down to the grain scale, and you’re going to see every mineral preserving those motions,” Eddy says.
Preliminary data revealed the presence of rocks under very high strain, indicating a shear zone, Eddy says.
The rising junior arrived at Norwich after spending six years in the Air Force, where he served as an inflight cryptologic Arabic linguist largely based at Offutt AFB near Omaha, Neb.
At Norwich, he’s been passionate about geology ever since his first intro class. Faculty describe him as a mature, driven and highly capable student
Eddy says the summer has been a nonstop learning experience. His biggest insight: “Sometimes you just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t contributed something useful. Just that there is more work to do.”
He adds that working with Prof. Koteas has been an honor, describing him as a excellent scientist, mentor and friend.
Eddy says his project is in the final stages of initial research. Together with Prof. Koteas, he has submitted a poster to the Geological Society of America. If accepted, it would be presented at the Society’s national meeting in Baltimore in November.
Criminal Justice may be the most popular major at Norwich. But it took an associate professor of chemistry to solve a truly terrible case on the other side of the globe—the largest mass poisoning of a population in history. Working in Bangladesh since 1997, analytical chemist Prof. Seth Frisbie revealed that over 50 million Bangladeshis were drinking water with unsafe arsenic levels from recently installed deep-water wells. These wells supply drinking water to 97 percent of the populace. Analyses of water samples by Frisbie and his colleagues also discovered significant amounts of manganese, lead, nickel, chromium, and nearly three-dozen other inorganic chemicals. Long-term exposure to these heavy metals in Bangladesh pushed incidences of cancer and other chronic diseases to extraordinary levels. Children as young as seven were affected. And in some villages, few residents lived beyond the age of 30, Frisbie observed.
The Cornell-trained chemist was unwilling to sit idly by. That same year he worked with his wife and a handful of colleagues to establish the nonprofit Better Life Laboratories to more deeply investigate the causes of toxic drinking water. The team also scoured water samples for other trace minerals known to aggravate or mitigate toxic metal poisoning. The researchers partnered with the Bangladesh government, NGOs and other research institutions in North America and Europe. Frisbie has worked since then to continue his investigation and to pioneer swift, practical solutions for the impoverished country. These include developing keener, cheaper tests for drinking water arsenic and well-drilling strategies that can provide 85 percent of those affected access to safer drinking water.
This work has expanded into neighboring West Bengal, India and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Approximately 150 students from Norwich University have helped with various aspects of these projects. Some of these students have co-authored important scientific papers and conference posters with Dr. Frisbie and his longtime colleague from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Dr. Bibudhendra Sarkar, an Invited Speaker at the Nobel Symposium under the auspices of the Nobel Foundation in Sweden. A new project in Nepal is currently being planned.
Senior biology major Maciel Porto was one of 38 Norwich University undergraduates awarded Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and 10 -week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
This summer, rising senior Maciel Porto spent 10 weeks in the lab investigating leptin receptors in the avian hypothalamus and their potential role in regulating appetite.
The hypothalamus is a small area of the brain that plays a big role regulating energy balance, body temperature, satiety, heart rhythm, sleep patterns and other essential body functions.
Activated by the hormone leptin, leptin receptors are gene-encoded proteins connected to fat metabolism.
Did decreasing food supplies influence the genetic expression of leptin receptors over time in chicken embryos? That was a question the biology major from San Antonio wanted to explore.
Porto focused his summer research project on measuring leptin and leptin receptors in the hypothalami of embryonic chickens between 8 and 14 days old.
“In avian models leptin and its receptor, theoretically, have the same functions as those within mammals,” Porto notes. “The mystery to the receptors' presence within the chicken genome presents many questions.”
Porto worked in the lab of his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi, a neuroscientist who also studies avian hypothalamus tissue to investigate the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in neurons.
Porto’s own research employed state-of-the-art procedures used in molecular biology labs around the world.
Starting with micro-dissection of embryonic chicken brains to extract the hypothalamus, Porto isolated RNA from the tissue samples. He then synthesized what’s known as copy, or C-DNA, to determine if genes for leptin receptors were expressed.
Porto then tested c-DNA primers, the “short segments of base pairs of nucleotides that kind of align with a specific section of a gene,” Porto says.
Using a procedure called agarose gel electrophoresis, Porto then separated the genetic material by molecular size.
Adding ethidium bromide enabled Porto to tag DNA fragments and fluoresce them under ultraviolet light, creating a visual bar code for the genes expressed in the sample cell tissue.
Although Porto initially identified a difference in the abundance of leptin receptors in chicken embryos that were 8 and 14 days old, he found no statistically significant change in gene expression between younger and old embryos overall.
“This proposes a more in-depth study of relative change of LEPR gene expression, which would include more samples for each time period,” Porto concluded in a final research paper on his study.
Porto says his summer research fellow experience taught him the value of even the smallest data discovery and the volume of contributions required to solve big research questions.
“I also realized that although my findings were astronomical in my eyes, this was only a 10-week timeline, in which is a fraction compared (with) other researchers,” he says.
“It put things into perspective on how much work and dedication it really takes to provide a contribution within the research profession.”
Porto says he plans to enter a research or graduate program to study immunology when he graduates from Norwich this spring.
This article was originally published on Sept. 17, 2015, as part of a series on Norwich University Undergraduate Summer Research fellows.
Early one morning in late August, Richard Dunn prowled the grassy expanse of Groningen Garden, a large public park in downtown Tel Aviv. Part of an international research team, the geologist was in Israel to look for a pre-Roman harbor in the ancient city of Jaffa, the storied Biblical port of Solomon. With a coring rig due later that morning, Dunn and his colleagues opted to canvass the site with ground-penetrating radar in the predawn light. Less than an hour into their survey, air raid sirens wailed to life. Dunn, who played semipro baseball in college with an eye on the majors, scrambled for the nearest air raid shelter, hitting the dirt with his colleagues when they found the door padlocked. Overhead, Israeli Defense Force missiles intercepted a Palestinian rocket. As the team dusted themselves off after the attack, they decided it might be a good time to retreat to a local café.
That day in Tel-Aviv stands out in Dunn’s memory as a dramatic moment in the midst of a busy, semester-long, research sabbatical. Earlier that summer, Dunn had visited several sites in Greece, where he is currently involved in four distinct projects with colleagues from UCLA, Vanderbilt, the Field Museum of Chicago, and other institutions.
Deep Geologic Time
An expert at reconstructing ancient landscapes and environments, Dunn chairs the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Norwich University. In 2014 he was named the University’s 21st Charles A. Dana Professor. The author of more than a dozen papers (with a half-dozen more in press), several book chapters, and scores of conference presentations, Dunn majored in geology and anthropology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, which housed a leading archaeometry lab at the time. It was an era, begun in the 1970s and continued in the 80s, when geology and archaeology began to overlap, converging into a dedicated field known as geological archaeology.
Hooked, Dunn earned a master’s in geology from Wichita State University in Kansas and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Delaware. Fieldwork in Florida, Belize, Cyprus, and Greece helped him hone his expertise at reconstructing ancient coasts. Combing geologic fieldwork and mapping with lab analysis of ancient pollen and marine organism microfossils from core samples, he teased out clues about previous landscapes and environmental conditions.
Today, his research follows a transect of deep geologic time, informing the work of archaeological projects throughout the Mediterranean and, more recently, Easter Island. His recent and current projects include a Neolithic cave site and archaeological sites of the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, and ancient Greeks. Providing geologic insight, Dunn seeks answers to important questions, such as the best place to dig for Roman tombs in a dynamic coastal zone, or where the former inhabitants of a long-ago vanished city may have found a plentiful source of freshwater.
The city in question is Korphos-Kalamianos, a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age site on the Aegean coast of Greece. “According to archaeologists, this was one of the sites named by Homer as having sent ships to Mycenae that then went to Troy to get back Helen,” Dunn says. The site was unusual because the walls of its many buildings were exposed, as if archaeologists had abandoned it after 25 years of digging. Dunn was enlisted, in part, to explain why. “It had been covered in this really thick bramble,” Dunn says. “There had been a fire, and it burned off, revealing the ancient port city.”
Korphos-Kalamianos clings to a rocky coast backed by hills and mountains. There is no stream, river, or other obvious source of freshwater. Archaeologists had assumed residents stored rainwater in large underground cisterns, but had yet to unearth any of note.
“That was kind of problematic,” Dunn recalls. He had mapped the site’s basic geology with Norwich undergraduates Devin Collins ’09, Greg Miller ’10, and Ethan Thomas ’11. “We realized that the bedrock had this pattern of fractures in it.” A chat between Dunn and a Greek fisherman hinted at places where freshwater flowed from the seafloor. “Springs, right? Aha!” Dunn hypothesized that groundwater was moving underground from the hills down through the fracture system to upwell at Korphos-Kalamianos. The archaeologists were skeptical, believing that the site’s rocky fissures carried salt water from the Aegean Sea, whose waves crashed ashore just 10 yards away.
A quick taste test proved he was right. Once the team mapped the site, they saw a pattern to the buildings: two rows separated by a blank zone. “Those lines of buildings were situated right on top of these two big fractures. Basically people didn’t want to walk very far to get their freshwater,” Dunn explains, “so they built their homes along this sort of artesian well system.”
Challenging Conventional Wisdom
More recently, Dunn has upended the conventional wisdom at an archaeological site on Easter Island, where a team co-led by Jo Anne Van Tilburg from UCLA is investigating Rano Raraku, the ancient quarry that supplied the stone for the islanders’ iconic moai statues. The team is the first to investigate the site since a 1955 Norwegian archaeological dig.
“His work is fundamental in establishing the probable location of those quarries and helping us to pinpoint the location of the next phase of our investigations,” Van Tilburg says, from Easter Island.
One task Dunn undertook was to produce the first-ever geologic map of the quarry, steep slopes that flank a freshwater lake in what was believed to be a collapsed volcanic cone. Yet Dunn’s fieldwork pointed to a different geologic story altogether—namely, that the site occupies the collapsed basin on the flank of a much larger, older volcano, now nearly completely eroded away. Dunn presented his findings at the Geologic Society of America conference to wide acclaim.
“Things like Easter Island, we think we understand—or the Grand Canyon, or something. It turns out that often not as much work has been done as we think, and we’re still trying to figure these things out,” Dunn says.
“[Easter Island] was a classic example of falling back on literally the things I learned as an undergraduate. The most basic tools, you know… Taking the puzzle pieces from that and putting together the right story. Rather than starting out with what I thought the picture already looked like, [asking] does that make sense?”
K. Tabetha Hole joined the Norwich physics faculty last fall as an assistant professor. The daughter of an American doctor, she was born in Nigeria and earned her PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Using computer models and Chandra X-Ray Telescope data, her ongoing research studies the structure of supernovas and massive star winds. This spring, she teaches Intro to Astronomy, the capstone Senior Seminar II, and an independent study while supervising a senior research project. In a recent interview, Hole reflected upon the beauty and mystery of the universe and teaching.
Pop quiz: In 60 seconds or less, explain dark matter.
Dark matter is a name for our ignorance. If we look at the structure of galaxies, how fast the sun is going around the center of our galaxy should tell us how much mass there is in the galaxy. When we look at that, the amount of gravitational mass is way more than we can account for by actually looking at the stuff that’s there.
Ninety percent of the mass of the universe does not correspond to anything we know about on Earth. We’ve tried to account for it. But [we] just can’t. There’s missing mass. We know its effect. But we don’t know what it is, and that’s what we call “dark matter.” It’s “dark,” because it doesn’t glow. It doesn’t interact with light. It’s some completely different kind of matter that we’ve never been able to touch or detect directly. Obviously, we’ve been trying to. But we still don’t know what it is, and we’ve been looking for decades.
What do you call yourself?
Astronomer, astrophysicist, and, of course, physics professor. I spend most of my time being a physics professor. It is my focus, because I really enjoy teaching. Generating new knowledge is wonderful. But as is true in pretty much every academic discipline, if I discover something new about stars, only a few people in the world will ever read about that. Whereas, working with students, teaching introductory physics, I am able to share with them something beautiful and amazing about the universe.
You published a research paper titled, “Can We Detect Clumpiness in Supernova Ejecta?” Well, can we?
Why should we care about supernovas?
When a star explodes, it turns out that that explosion makes most of the heavier elements in the universe. The iron in your blood had to be made in a supernova—there’s no other way to make iron—and probably more than one. So the iron in your blood came from multiple stars exploding. We can see supernovas across the universe. They affect the stars around them. They start star formation. They end star formation. They are responsible for changing the chemical makeup of the universe over time. They are responsible for making us. They are a test for our understanding of physics in extreme conditions that we just can’t do on Earth. If you want to study how the universe changes over billions of years or how galaxies change, you have to understand what happens in [supernovas].
Does your brain ever hurt thinking about these things?
Not so much. I think maybe the bigger puzzle is how to get students to understand. Because especially in physics, you first have to remove the misconception and then you can bring in the real fun. And that’s something no one knows how to do perfectly. I mean people ask, If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we feed the hungry? The reason we can’t is because of people. We can harness the power of a couple thousand people who want to work together to go to the moon. [But] you can’t put people in a box and poke them until they do what you want. All in all, I would definitely rather feed the hungry. Humans in some ways are a much harder puzzle than the universe. Helping people learn more about themselves and learn more about the world, that is actually in some ways a bigger challenge.
You say your interest in physics was sparked, in part, while studying astronomy in high school. You mention things like studying the phases of the moon. The moment when you visualized that relationship from space, rather than the surface of the Earth, and how that suddenly provided clarity. Can you talk about that?
By changing your perspective, something that was incredibly complicated becomes incredibly simple and elegant. That’s a larger part of what I find so amazing about the universe. You take things that are on surface incredibly complicated and you peel back the layers to find the incredibly simple rules that the universe operates by. Then you can build back up to the complication, piece by piece, and understand each one. And then the universe is not this weird unpredictable mess. It’s actually beautiful and elegant underneath, even if it’s not what we would ever have expected.
What excites you about the field today?
Oh, there’s so much. One big [thing] is that we now have a new way of looking at the universe: gravitational waves. It’s like opening your eyes. When we’re in astronomy, all we can do is study what the universe sends us. Most of the information it sends us is in light, radio waves, x-rays. Gravity comes from mass. So we now have a tool for looking at things that don’t even necessarily produce light. It’s going to give us more information that we could’ve gotten in the next hundred years using regular telescopes. So that is the most exciting thing right now. That we have a fundamental new way of knowing about the universe.
With a clear night sky overhead, Norwich University Physics professor Arthur Pallone stood in the gazebo on the Crescent, calling for volunteers. “Who wants to be the sun?”
A gentleman from the community piped in, “I’m pretty bright.” Onlookers chuckled as Pallone handed the man a glowing lantern, then asked who wanted to play Atlas and hold up the Earth.
Passing a globe to a Norwich student and holding a miniature moon himself, Prof. Pallone proceeded to give a 3D demonstration of the lunar eclipse as it played out in space above the terrestrial sky-watchers.
The light-hearted astronomy demo took place on Sunday, September 27, a night when anyone in North America and much of the rest of the world could look up and witness a rare sight: a lunar eclipse-supermoon combination on the night of a Harvest Moon.
Supermoons are fairly common, happening about once a year when a full moon occurs at perigee, or the point when the Moon orbits closest to Earth, Pallone said.
But a combined supermoon and lunar eclipse hasn’t occurred in more than 30 years, he said, and the next one won’t come around until 2033.
“People were already interested in the eclipse,” said Pallone, who teaches astronomy and now applies the same experimental techniques he formerly used to mimic the insides of stars to study the insides of biological specimens. “It’s not every day that the moon turns red before our eyes.”
He said he simply decided to add to the fun by coordinating a gathering, during which he’d be on-hand to explain the science behind the lunar event.
Even before the first red tinges began to creep over the moon, the green space on the Norwich campus appropriately named the Crescent flooded with people—as many as 80 cadets, rooks and civilian students, faculty, and community members.
Spectators lined up to view the eclipse through a telescope, and Pallone made the rounds to engage the various groups that had formed. Among the crowd were NU Geology Prof. Rick Dunn and his daughter and Norwich President Richard W. Schneider, who as an expert navigator from his US Coast Guard days, enthusiastically joined the discussion. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
As the Moon turned a deep red and the crowd began to thin, people stopped by to thank Pallone before heading inside to escape the chill air. “The Blood Moon was the main event,” the astronomer shrugged. “I just provided some narration.”
About the author: Jacque E. Day, the features editor for the Norwich Record alumni magazine, is married to Prof. Pallone.